Sailor seeks work at Bell Island mines

Reprinted from The Packet, June 19, 2019
by Lester Green

(Click on images to enlarge)

Seaman Peter Conway, Gooseberry Cove. (Photo courtesy of Bernice Conway)

Peter was born at Gooseberry Cove but raised by his grandparents. He was one of two boys who were the last to enlist with the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve and sail overseas from our area. He returned to Gooseberry Cove but left to seek employment in the iron ore mines of Bell Island by the mid-1920s.

Peter was the oldest son of John Conway of Turks Cove and Margaret Ann Seward of Gooseberry Cove. He was the only sibling born at Gooseberry Cove on February 3, 1897. All other siblings were born at Turk’s Cove.

Records indicate that Peter remained at Gooseberry Cove with his maternal grandparents, Robert and Mary Ann Seward. His remained with his grandparents until his enlistment with the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve.

His grandparents also had another grandson, Eli Seward, son of Enoch, that served during the war with the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve.

Peter travelled to St. John’s with Benjamin Smith and both joined the Reserve within one day of each other. Ben signed his papers on May 20, 1918 and the next day Peter signed his enlistment.

Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve engagement papers. Source TRPAD_GN 182.14

Naval records for all of the boys from the Southwest Arm area indicate that Peter and Ben were the last individuals from the Southwest Arm area to enlist for service with the Royal Navy during the Great War. Their enlistment brought the total number of individuals that served with the navy from our area to 87 sailors.

On June 18, Peter requested that a payment of five shillings be deducted from his payroll. This money, equivalent to $1.40 in the 1900s, was forwarded to his grandfather, Robert, who was now a widower. Peter’s grandmother passed away on February 12, 1915.

Peter was deployed overseas 10 days after his enlistment and received training overseas at HMS Pembroke, which served as an accounting base. It was also the location for the Royal Naval Trawler Division where a large number of Newfoundland sailors were posted.

He was likely assigned to a trawler but no entries for the ships that he served on were found.

On January 21, 1919 he was transferred to the HMS Vivid III which also housed another Royal Naval Trawler Division.

He remained there for two months and received his final overseas orders on March 29.

Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve Service Ledgers. Source TRPAD_ GN 182.7

On April 10, 1919, the Evening Telegram published an article entitled “RNR’s Returning” confirming the arrival of Seaman Peter Conway at St. John’s from overseas aboard the SS Sagona.

He received demobilization on May 12 and returned to Gooseberry Cove where his name is listed in the 1921 census. He remained there until the death of his grandfather in 1924.

Peter left the area to seek work on Bell Island where he secured work at the Bell Island mines with the British Empire Steel Corporation (BESCO).

It was during his early years at Bell Island that he met Annabel, daughter of Michael and Anastasia Byrne of West Mines.

Source: The Daily News (St. John’s, N.L.), 1959-04-01

They were married in November 1928 at a ceremony on Bell Island. They had five children, three boys and two girls, all of whom were born and raised on Bell Island.

Peter worked at the mines and received medical treatment for an injury received at the mines in 1958. He recovered and returned to work where he remained until his retirement.

He passed away in 1971 at the age of 74 years and was followed by Annabel who passed several years later at the age of 80 years. They are both resting at the Roman Catholic cemetery on Bell Island.